Short Fiction ~ Michael Pettifer
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 18
I made my way to a vantage point where I could see the river meander and morph into white water - Crystal Rapid. From this position the water was running fast with curlers and holes challenging those that dare. And the noise. The rumble of the rapid... a drum roll.
At distance the rafting looked challenging but not too dissimilar to the rapids I had trained for. I made my way from the vantage point to our launch point joining Chris at our raft. Just the two of us manning the smallest raft. We checked the lashings making good any slack. We donned life jackets. We felt confident.
... We stood by our raft in silence. We knew the challenges – holes and curlers. He went to the back of the raft and I to the front. We pushed our raft on to the river taking our pre-planned positions. My job, in the prow, is to lean forward, keeping a straight body line and go headfirst through the rising walls of water-the curlers. That tactic keeps weight at the front of the raft and keeps the boat in balance. Timing is everything.
We were mid-stream. The river running faster. I take my place and fix my legs and feet gripping the side rope to give me and the raft maximum stability. I’m not the biggest. or the heaviest, but I am a determined young twenty-year-old woman.
In the stern, Chris is working both oars in a circular motion keeping us on track. We're confident of success despite the water temperature of nine Celsius, dressed in T-shirts, shorts, Teva sandals and life jackets. The water, a sandy hue, is becoming muddy in colour as the pace of the river increases.
The thing about rapids is you hear them before you see them. The rumble, the drum beat of water tells us that we are about to enter Crystal Rapid, the first challenge on the river. The rumble becomes a roar ... And the noise is a reminder - and a warning - to respect a powerful river. I'm about to enter a cauldron of holes and walls of water - the ‘curlers.’ Suddenly, the river level drops. the front of our raft dives and crashes into a hole. I position myself, headfirst to dive through the rising curler, that wall of vertical water crowned with white foam. I'm sure I will go through the curler as before. But the river is in no mood to accommodate my previous successes. My head and the front of the raft hit the curler. The front of the raft lifts skyward. I lean further forward but to no effect. The raft moves more ... and more ... to the vertical position. I can’t stop this. My leg and body position become detached from the raft as horizontal becomes vertical and the speed of the water pushes the back of the raft in front of my position. Even as I relive this, I remember that feeling of inevitability. No amount of raft trickery would stop this river having its way.
'…I am out of the raft...under the raft...the shock of cold water on my body …my mind has to readjust in the rushing water...is this it? I must...use my hands to get from under the raft...keep my feet forward...breathe when I can between the curlers...use my training. The holes pull me below the water level and then spew me out... breathe in again. I’m pulled under again. Where’s Chris? No idea. I am being thrown up and dragged down in the water...feet forward, breathe again when I hit the surface. The power of the water and the rip currents make any thought of my survival dependant on the will of this river to forgive me - or not...the river’s fury spits me out. Shit.
I must keep my feet forward - that's the training - feet forward ... I cannot afford to have no sight of what might be in the water, nor can I risk a head injury (no helmets) ... pulled under ... spewed out ... pulled under ... spewed out with the roar of the rapid in my ears ... is this it? Am I going to make it?'
A thousand thoughts flash through my mind. The adrenalin rush keeps me focussed. I have no thought or idea where Chris is. Then, as soon as the rapid enveloped me, the same released me from its grip. I drift with the flow of the river and the tempest behind me. Fellow rafters' wave and shout. They pull me from the river to the bank. Chris was safe.
Nature, luck or destiny was on my side ...our side ... that day. And I survived to tell my story.
Michael Pettifer has an MA in screenwriting and an Honours degree in Chemistry. He writes flash fiction and short stories and is successful in International flash fiction competitions. Michael was raised near Stratford upon Avon and has a passion for the actors art and live theatre. He enjoys writing short plays for friends. When not writing he is using his word craft as a professionally qualified development specialist advising and supporting others reliant on written documentation and effective communication skills to further their career opportunities.